Politics

Young ambassador hopes her story will spur donations at global health meeting

The Global Fund replenishment conference that starts today in Montreal is attracting a long list of wealthy donors and decision-makers — from Bill Gates to Bono to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Bill Gates, Bono among big names at Montreal conference to replenish fund to fight HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria

Loyce Maturu, 23, of Zimbabwe, was put on antiretroviral drugs for HIV and cured of TB with medication paid for by the Global Fund, which is holding its fundraising conference in Montreal on Friday and Saturday. (Margo McDiarmid)

Loyce Maturu holds two large pills, one yellow, one white, in the palm of her hand.

They look like large vitamins. But these pills keep her alive.

The 24-year old woman from Zimbabwe was born HIV-positive. By the time she was 10, both her mother and her younger brother had died of AIDS and tuberculosis.

Maturu didn't know she was suffering from the same diseases until she was diagnosed two years later. She was sick and thin, barely able to walk into a local clinic to get help.

"It was really painful. I lost all my confidence and thought I was going to die just like my mother and younger brother," Maturu said in an interview with CBC News.

But it was a diagnosis that changed her life for the better.

Maturu was put on antiretroviral drugs for HIV and cured of TB with medication paid for by the Global Fund. It's an international fund that was started in 2002 with the goal of getting governments, civil society and private donors to work together fight the big three infectious killers — AIDS, TB and malaria.

The fund pays for 75 per cent of the medications for those diseases and has saved an estimated 20 million lives, according to Global Affairs Canada.

The Global Fund replenishment conference that starts today in Montreal is attracting a long list of wealthy donors and decision-makers — from Bill Gates to Bono to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The goal of this year's conference is to raise $13 billion that will help save an estimated eight million lives while preventing 300 million new infections by 2019. The final total will be released on Saturday, the last day of the conference.

There will also be some political arm twisting to get countries to increase their donations to .7 per cent of GDP. Right now, Canada's is below average at .28 per cent.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has increased Canada's contribution to the fund by 20 per cent, promising $785 million over the next three years.

Maturu is there. She came as part of a network of advocates for the Global Fund, to speak for the many young people who are suffering from preventable infectious diseases.

The numbers are staggering: 1,000 teenage girls in sub-Saharan Africa contract HIV every day, according to global development experts.

What they face is similar to her life with HIV.

An experience that drove her to attempt suicide.

"For me, it was just a silent stigma — you know, in the way people look at you in the way that when you don't feel comfortable," she said.

"In 2010, when was I staying with one of my family members, I faced a lot of verbal and emotional abuse, and it was very difficult for me and I could not handle the situation and I said to myself I just want to die."

But Maturu survived that, too, with counselling and help. She says it's that kind of support that other young women need.

"When people get to know you are HIV-positive there is a double stigma because you are a young woman and people think you are promiscuous," she said.

"Most of adolescent girls are not given an opportunity to learn and understand about themselves, and at the end of the day they remain vulnerable and at risk."

Maturu first came to Canada in May, invited by Trudeau when he announced Canada was hosting the conference.

She's become a bit of a fan.

"I was one of the moments I will never forget in my life," she said. "I was nervous. I was excited. It was a true honour and humbling experience for me to meet with the prime minister."

More importantly, Maturu is now healthy and energetic.

She travels the globe with one message: living in poverty doesn't mean you have to lose your family, as she did.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now